Darryl Kaplan, writing for Sportsnet magazine, and Melissa Keith, writing for Atlantic Post Calls, were named winners in the 50th annual John Hervey Awards for excellence in harness racing journalism, the U.S. Harness Writers Association announced today.
Kaplan was honored in the feature writing category for his piece titled "Win or Die Trying," which was published in Sportsnet magazine on Oct. 31, 2011. Keith was recognized in the news/commentary category for her story titled "HPI: The Future of Live Racing?" in the March 18, 2011 edition of Atlantic Post Calls.
The contest was sponsored by harness racing executive Jeff Gural.
Kaplan's feature told the story of veteran driver Roger Hamm's brush with death on the racetrack and his eventual return to the winner's circle.
"Roger Hamm's quote said it all: ‘If they want me to stop racing, I'll have to die on the track.' Well, that's almost what happened one night in Canada as he collapsed in the sulky, nearly dead but still, somehow, driving to the finish line behind an 11-year-old mare," judge John Quinn said. "And all he could think about was that they didn't cut open his driving suit to save him because ‘these things aren't cheap.' It is a great tale told with style, grace and nuance, as well as great reporting and attention to detail without overdramatizing the event."
Receiving honorable mentions were Rob Longley's story "Why I Left (And Why I'm Coming Back)," which appeared in the September 2011 issue of Trot magazine, and Perry Lefko's piece "The Four Billion Dollar Man," which appeared in the March 2011 edition of Trot magazine.
Of Longley's story, Quinn said: "Steve Condren is a legend and a 2011 Hall of Fame inductee, but his biggest moment came when he fought cancer and won. The story chronicles his journey. The words paint the picture of the man, especially in the lead where he "looks so calm in the race bike that you might wonder if he has a pulse, nevermind a fighter's punch."
Longley won last year's Hervey Award for feature writing.
About Lefko's story, Quinn said: "Dana Parham is a big-time bettor, one who does it for a living, and even formed his own company. This feature gives you an interesting look inside the game, behind the scenes of a part of the sport that is not well known, with great quotes and insight."
Feature writing judge John Quinn is the sports editor of the Philadelphiaand a longtime follower of harness racing. He also is a volunteer instructor for the U.S. Harness Writers Association's annual Clyde Hirt Sports Journalism Workshop for college students, held in conjunction with the Hambletonian.
Keith's story examined online wagering sites, such as HorsePlayer Interactive, and how they affect racetracks. Keith received honorable mention in last year's contest.
"This is a thoughtful, well-presented piece that deals with a question on everyone's mind: are services like HPI siphoning dollars away from small-track betting pools -- or are they the solution in an increasingly challenged environment?" judge Maryjean Wall said. "This article addresses the dilemma facing small tracks: the small pools that characterize wagering at these venues discourage wagering from those who could help grow these venues. Would an online presence become their new lifeblood, or merely another form of competition?"
Honorable mention in the news/commentary division was awarded to Bill Heller's "In the Eye of the Storm," which appeared in the Nov. 17, 2011 issue of Canadian Sportsman magazine and reported on the absence of several top drivers and trainers at the Breeders Crown because of a snowstorm.
"This story details some fascinating background on why 37 driver changes occurred on the sport's championship night," Wall said.
News/commentary judge Maryjean Wall, Ph.D., was a three-time Hervey Award winner while working as the horse racing writer for the Lexington (KY) Herald-Leader for 35 years. She is author of "How Kentucky Became Southern: a Tale of Outlaws, Horse Thieves, Gamblers, and Breeders" (University Press of Kentucky, 2010).
Kaplan and Keith will be honored at USHWA's annual Dan Patch Awards dinner, to be held Feb. 12, at the DoubleTree Hilton at SeaWorld of Orlando.
For tickets to attend the banquet contact Steve Wolf at firstname.lastname@example.org; to take out a congratulatory ad in the Dinner Journal, contact Kim Rinker at email@example.com.
Discounted room rates, available until Jan. 16, at the DoubleTree can be made by calling 800.327.0363.
Winners in the broadcast category will be announced Thursday and photography on Friday.
by Ken Weingartner, Harness Racing Communications